Before becoming the back-to-back winner of the PGA Minority Championship in men’s individual play, Nabeel Khan grew up in Ohio with his mother Aishah, father Mohammad, two older sisters Sana and Rabia, two older brothers Shabaz and Ammaar and a younger brother Ali on the way.
“Two years after he [Mohammad] started, I picked up my first clubs,” Khan said. “I was almost six years old.”
As long as Khan can remember, he’s been around golf. Mohammad took up the sport in 2001 when Nabeel was four years old and shared it with the family.
Tiger Woods was coming to do a clinic in Columbus, Ohio the week before the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mohammad never played golf before, but Tiger was such a monumental person at that time with so much excitement surrounding him. When he came, Mohammad got tickets to go watch the clinic and took Nabeel and his older brothers. They picked golf up soon after.
“He [Mohammad] wasn’t born here, he came over from Pakistan when he was 19. The American sports that they don’t have in Pakistan, he didn’t understand how hard they could be. He thought he’d give it a try because it didn’t seem that complicated, then he got addicted to it and started playing a ton.”
“Gerry Hammond is a great guy. When my dad took us to that clinic to see Tiger, my dad went to get the tickets and met Gerry there. Then when my dad took us to the event, he saw my dad with five kids and asked if they’d ever played golf,” Khan said. “Shortly after that, my oldest brother started going with Gerry to clinics.” The rest of the Khan siblings followed.
“He’s been a friend, a coach and a mentor since I started,” Khan said.
Hammond is currently Khan’s swing coach.
Since then, Nabeel has grown up golfing with his family. Since so many of them liked to play golf, each Khan always had someone to play with.
“I would always play with my older brothers and we always had a level of competition between us. We were playing with each other all of the time so we always had people to play with,” Khan said.
All of the competing with each other must have been great practice, because each sibling is a strong golfer in their own right, according to Nabeel. Both of his brothers were recruited by Division 1 programs to play golf, but they ultimately decided to play club golf and focus on their studies. Sana and Rabia also golf, and Sana played Division 1 golf at Youngstown University.
“Since we were already playing competitively with each other, I decided to play competitively locally. We played in middle school, bigger state tournaments and then start traveling,” Khan said. “That’s basically how I got into it and how I got so addicted to it. I always had people to compete with, and we got a lot better practicing with each other.”
One experience that helped mold him into the golfer he is today was actually a job that he had for a year and a half starting his sophomore year of college. Khan was a caddy at Muirfield Village Golf Club, which is the course that hosts the PGA’s Memorial Championship every year.
“The experience of working at a course where they host a PGA tournament and meeting a lot of people that are involved with it was really cool,” Khan said.
Fun fact: Nabeel Khan once caddied for Microsoft cofounder and current Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Khan knew early in high school that he had a chance to play collegiate golf at a high level. Though Khan’s older brothers didn’t play Division 1 golf, they did consider it and made visits to schools where they could play.
“I knew I had a chance to play in college from watching my siblings go through the same process. I knew by my freshman year [of high school] that I’d play somewhere,” Khan said.
Khan didn’t know early on that the “somewhere” would be UConn. He said that he had a list of about 15 schools, and some parameters for those schools.
“I wanted to do engineering and play at a good school with a good schedule,” Khan said. “I was looking mostly midwest and northeast, I like those two areas.” Khan has aunts, uncles and cousins in New Jersey, New York and Boston.
“I also wanted to go to a big school, not a small or private school. And then there’s also the team environment. That’s like the last factor when you go in to the colleges and meet the coaches and get introduced to the team. Then it’s how you see yourself fit in. Once you go on multiple trips and visits to a school, you get an idea of what you like and what’s a good fit,” Khan said. “I think the overall combination of engineering, location, teammates, coaches and overall program are all the best fit for me here.”
Khan has loved his teammates at UConn during his four years here. Now a senior and wrapping up his second year as co-captain, Khan still appreciates the togetherness of golfing on a team.
“There’s an individual leaderboard, but what’s more important is the team score,” Khan said. “Other people may have a hard time seeing it as a team sport, but to the guys that play on our team, it’s team all day. It’s never felt like we’re individually doing this.”
From golfing with his family while growing up, to golfing with his fellow Huskies at the collegiate level, sharing the golf experience has always been a part of Khan’s life. In fact, the camaraderie is one of his favorite parts of the tournament that he’s currently the defending back-to-back winner of, the PGA Minority Collegiate Championship.
“People are competitive on the course, but off everyone is having a good time with each other hanging out. It’s always been a great environment,” Khan said.
Khan won the event in 2017 and 2018, with the most recent win coming by a whopping 12 strokes. With harsh weather conditions at the PGA Golf Club in St. Port Lucie, Florida causing the course to play extremely difficult, Khan was the only player in the field to shoot under par, finishing at -1. When he won the tournament for the first time the year prior in more ideal conditions, he shot -8.
“It’s been very welcoming environment, everyone there has treated me well for the years that I’ve played in it. I’m grateful to have met those people, they’re very nice,” Khan said. “There are some really good events out there that you always want to get invited back to.”
Khan will be graduating this spring with a degree in mechanical engineering. After UConn, Khan has a job lined up at Johnson Controls in Rocky Hill, where he will begin work this summer.
Hungry for competition, Khan will stay active as a golfer.
“I’m still going to play as an amateur. Based on your ranking you can still play in big events over the summer and keep a status. For the longest time I wanted to go pro, but over time I realized this might be the best decision for me right now so that’s what I’m looking to do,” Khan said.
Between graduation and starting work, Khan will have some time to golf with his family. To him, golf is a team sport and a family matter.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.